Kevin Estre believes his crew could have been able to fight for the GTE-Pro win had they not encountered a “reliability issue” to their Porsche 911 RSR midway through the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Estre and co-drivers Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor were unable to defend their victory in the French endurance classic, although a tenth place class finish on Sunday locked up the FIA World GTE Drivers’ Championship for Estre and Christensen.
The Manthey-run No. 92 Porsche enjoyed a strong start to the race and benefitted from a safety car period to pad its gap to the majority of the field, alongside the eventual class-winning No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE.
While vaulting into the lead in the fifth hour and enjoying a competitive battle with the Ferrari, an issue with the Porsche’s exhaust in the Hour 13 saw Estre lose six laps, and dropped them out of contention.
“I think we had the car and the crew and everything to win it,” Estre told Sportscar365.
“We were there. We didn’t want to just drive around; we wanted to win. We had the pace for it then we had a reliability issue on the exhaust and that threw us back.
“Then it was just about surviving and bringing some points because we had nothing to achieve. This was the most difficult part, to be honest.
“It was like 11 hours or something [left]. The first part was managing the risk you want to take, but going flat out it’s what you do on the 24 Hours of Le Mans because you can’t really go slow.
“The second part was just surviving and trying to bring it home. But mentally, it was very tough.”
The trio’s tenth place class finish was still enough for Estre and Christensen to take the world drivers’ title by 18.5 points over James Calado and Alessandro Pier Gudi, whose class win on Sunday moved them past Porsche’s Gimmi Bruni and Richard Lietz for second in the championship.
“Until we had the issue, we were challenging them, we passed them and we pulled a gap on them. But you never know what would have happened in the next ten hours,” Estre added.
“How would have the pace been for us? How would have the car reacted? You saw with the 93 and 91, that the reliability was not an issue for them and they pushed the whole race but we had an issue on our car.
“It happens and that’s why you need four cars in Le Mans.”
Winning Super Season Championship a “One-of-a-Kind” Achievement
Estre said he’s incredibly proud to win the drivers’ title in what will likely go down as the most competitive field in GTE-Pro for the foreseeable future.
In addition to their Le Mans victory last year, Estre and Christensen collected an additional class win in Fuji, while only failing to finish off the class podium twice in the eight-race, 14-month-long ‘Super Season’.
“Winning the championship this season, I think, is a really big achievement compared to a normal WEC season,” Estre said. “It was even harder.
“There were more manufacturers, there were more points to grab with Sebring and two-times Le Mans. It was a tough season. It was something special.
“With two Le Mans and 17 Pro cars, I don’t think it ever has happened and I’m not sure when it’s going to happen again.
“I think this year was the year to win and if I had to choose within the last five years, I would pick this one.”